Lucia Vega Jiménez referred for mental health assessment while detained, never got one

VANCOUVER – September 30, 2014 – This afternoon, evidence was given at the coroner’s inquest into the death of Lucia Vega Jiménez that a nurse in the Alouette correctional facility where she was being held had referred her for a mental health assessment just days before her suicide attempt. Nurse Lilia Hernandes-Cazares testified that an assessment had been scheduled but that the appointment was missed when Ms Vega Jiménez was taken downtown from the prison to a detention review. When she was returned to prison, the assessment was not rescheduled. This assessment would have sought to determine the nature of any mental health issue she may have suffered, and whether treatment was needed to stabilize her condition. Josh Paterson, Executive Director of the BC Civil Liberties Association, a participant at the inquest, reacted:

“Had Lucia received the mental health support that the nurse said she needed, she might very well be alive today. This testimony suggests a significant error took place somewhere in Canada Border Services Agency’s detention process. The evidence states that it was clearly identified that Lucia was suffering mental health issues – so much so that a nurse had scheduled her for an assessment. Instead of ensuring that Lucia got the medical care she required, the evidence we have heard suggests that mis-communication, non-communication, and a drive to deport Lucia as fast as possible made sure that she did not get the help that she clearly needed. Then, just days later, she committed suicide.”

“The CBSA officer dealing with Lucia admitted on the stand that the agency suspected that Lucia had possible mental health issues. Worse than simply doing nothing to help her, the picture emerging in these allegations is that CBSA’s actions appear to have prevented Lucia from accessing care that the detention centre medical team had planned for her – care that might have saved her life.”

Further testimony in the afternoon from Sandra Gemmill, Assistant Deputy Warden with BC Corrections, indicated that changes have been put in place since Lucia Vega Jimenez’s death to ensure that all mental health referrals for detainees facing possible removal from Canada are treated as “urgent” and given priority. “The changes strongly suggest that there was a problem to begin with. If these changes work, that’s a positive thing, but it’s tragic that someone died before the problem was fixed. And this was only one of the problems that potentially contributed to her death.”